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The Iliad And The Aeneid History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Two of the greatest epics ever written, Homer’s The Iliad and Virgil’s The Aeneid, have undeniably focused similarities stemming from individually focused conceptions of heroic exploits, human life, an agrarian lifestyle and the life of war. The Aeneid by Virgil uses its righteous characters to reveal the Roman’s patronizing agenda. Homer’s The Iliad discloses a great deal about life and the extent of social advancement during that time. Their stories of the shields reveal that society was not only where metal was harbored but also where city and country cultures are interconnected in the economy, where art is treasured as an outlet for expression, military organization and a display of warrior customs.

The Iliad and The Aeneid, while at first glance may seem relatively similar, are actually portraying two radically different conceptions of honor. Homer’s portrayal of the Greek concept of honor is extraordinarily distinctive, focusing on the gallant actions taken for the sake of being remembered all through time. Virgil depicts the Roman concept of honor by illustration of being bound to the duty of the State and the people, where heroic measures are done for the sake of fellow man and the good of the empire.

Homer’s epic shows the Greek siege of the city of Troy. By book IX, the war has turned in opposition to the Greeks and Agamemnon is strained to down his pride and deliver a delegation to Achilles to convince him to reenter the battle. In an effort to make good to Achilles’ tribute, Agamemnon promises an vast quantity of wealth, but Achilles does not allow himself to be tempted and, in a moment of anger, affirms that he will only resume battle if the Trojan’s attack his ships. It is only at that point, according to Achilles, that he will be able to rejoin the battle as a point of personal honor rather than as Agamemnon’s appointed assistant. We see that Achilles’ honor is more important to him than the lives of his people. Achilles is motivated first and foremost by a thirst for honor and fame. While some part of him desires to live a long, easy life, he knows that his personal fate forces him to choose between the two. “Mother tells me, the immortal goddess Thetis with her glistening feet, that two fates bare me on to the day of death. If I hold out here and I lay siege to Troy, my journey home is gone, but my glory never dies. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies true, but the life that’s left me will be long, the stroke of death will not come on me quickly” (Homer #). Ultimately, Achilles is willing to sacrifice everything, including his own life and those of his men, so that his name will be remembered.

Unlike the Greeks, the Romans, as a culture, had two separate conceptions of honor: an idealized version that they aspired to, and the kind that they practiced in everyday life. In The Iliad the only true honor that Achilles could earn was defeating Hector, the only man close to being his equal. In Greece this ideology was nonexistent. The people of ancient Greece tried to emulate the honor their mythical heroes like Achilles portrayed. In Rome, these two separate kinds of honor had different names. In The Aeneid, the epic’s hero Aeneas is clearly a personification of the Roman’s idealized honor. Like Homer’s epic heroes in The Iliad, Aeneas travels with a band of men and lives in a world where divine intervention is the norm. The main distinction between Virgil’s and Homer’s epics is that Aeneas’s purpose is not to obtain fame and glory. Instead his central mission is to accomplish what fate has in store for him. In fact, Virgil seems to consider the pursuit of glory as a dishonorable and callow trait.

Homer’s The Iliad depicts a well-organized society with a set way of making decisions, with a hierarchy headed by elders, a population fully involved in affairs and heralds who serve as protection and population controls. This society offers a clear delineation between urban and rural regions and activities show that this is a society with a diversified economy. The two regions serve on another. The cities have more people, serve as manufacturing centers and consume the food and wine produced by the rural areas. Hephaestus makes an image of a fair fallow field that has been plowed and also shows the men who are working this field, with their oxen pulling the plow. These is also a community effort rather than an individualistic one, demonstrated by the way the men plowing make a circle and are then greeted on each turn by a man with a cup of wine. The entire description of agricultural life of the region shows that this is an advanced agricultural community.

Civilization has followed a pattern based on our ability to learn and use different tools at different stages, different materials from which those tools were made and different modes of food production. Hephaestus knew how to forge metal and shape it to one’s need. In a scene Homer depicts, Hephaestus is creating a shield which will be the strongest ever made. Just by knowing the fact that such a shield would be required shows that this war-like society either is in need of defense or prepared to invade others. Hephaestus is a god but the formalities and articulation he places in his work is similar to that of a human.

The shield Hephaestus is making is especially strong, with layers put together and adorned with gold and silver and then decorated with scenes and images. The artistry required extends to the decorations for this shield and Hephaestus embodies images of his society and of the gods that rule over it into the shield. The artistry is clearly valued for itself and not merely in the way the forged shield might be as a practical tool. The man who wields this shield will be presenting the society depicted on it and needs to be reminded of this fact by the man who makes it. The images place on the shield say much about the society of the time. The first thing placed on the shield are images of the natural world which is important to ancient societies because people still lived close to nature, subject to all the varieties of natural force. There is also foreshadowing in the images of the two cities that Hephaestus places on the shield, given that the shield will be used by Achilles in the Greek assault on Troy. The fact that these images can be placed on this shield shows that this is also a society that believes in predestination and the ability to forecast the future.

Men of Rome displayed the utmost allegiance to the cause of Rome, for their destiny was to defeat the Greeks and continue to thrive as an Empire. In Virgil’s The Aeneid Aeneas returns to Italy, marries Lavinia, and becomes wounded. His goddess mother Venus comes to his side to aid and comfort her son. In the speech she shares with Aeneas we see that duty to Rome is destiny, and those who shirk that duty can never hope to be heroic. As Venus contends, “Upon this shield did the Fire-god, with knowledge of things to come, being versed in the prophets, had wrought events from Italian history and Roman triumphs” (Virgil #). This display shows her content with the Roman display and her effort to accommodate them for their victory.

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